Since my 55 Chevy project (affectionately named "Blue Jean"!) is in need of a complete re-wiring job, I thought I'd document the process as I go along to show everyone just how easy it is to wire a car from scratch, giving it the bare essentials needed to start, run and drive in a reliable and semi-neat looking fashion! SO many folks are intimidated about the notion of wiring a car from scratch, but if I can do it, then any oaf can...so hopefully once this series is done, then you'll see just how simple it can really be! That isn't to say that it's something you'll breeze through in an hour...it's time-consuming and, at times, tedious...but it is NOT difficult in the least! Start out by planning just what you want your car to have in the way of electrical systems and components. You'll need to know everything that will be included, and where each component will ultimately be located so that you can gain a general idea of how much wire you'll need, which connectors and terminals will be required, and how you may want to route your harness. In this case, my car will have just the basics, plus a few options left open for 'on down the road'. I want it to have brake lights, tail lights, headlights, front marker (parking) lights, wipers, a heater, radio, dash lights, a few gauges, and of course the wiring needed to start and run the engine as well as a functional charging circuit. I opted to skip turn signals because I hardly use 'em anyhow...and I think it's cool to use hand signals (and occasional hand gestures!) when driving an old heap! There also won't be any air conditioning, power windows or locks or any of that fluff going on here! Like I said...just the basics...a no-frill electrical system that ANYONE can wire from the ground-up, as I hope to demonstrate in the coming weeks (you know, as time, weather and funding permit!). Once you know what components you want your ride to have, you can form a mental 'game plan' and begin gathering up your basic supplies. At the very LEAST you're going to want to have lots of wire in the color(s) of your choice, a large selection of solderless "crimp connectors", assorted terminal ends, LOTS of quality electrical tape (believe me...get several rolls of quality tape!), a good pair of wire cutters, a good pair of stripper/crimpers, new bulbs, switches and sockets as needed, and two six-fuse mini-panels from Buss (not to mention the fuses to go into them!). That's an icomplete list...stuff will come up as you go, but it gives you a 'heads up' as to what you'll want to have on hand. Now, to start the project! I tend to start at the ends and work my way to the middle. That is to say, I do the rear lights and what I call the 'rear light harness', followed by the front lights and the 'front light harness', then the engine wiring and then get into the under-dash area and bring it all together. Sometimes, anyway...I tend to skip around a bit, but that's my loosely formulated Plan of Attack anyway! On this car, I decided to start with the tail lights. You'll be MILES ahead of the game if you have new tail light assemblies to start with, but 55 Chevys ain't all that popular I guess (!), so nobody sells whole assemblies for them...just lenses and trim bezels! That gives us a chance to spend a few hours refurbishing the ratty original housings and sockets enough to make do! (Did I mention that this was FUN as well as "easy"?!) The passenger side assembly came apart okay, and with a little deft effort, I was able to get the age-old bulb out and salvage the socket. I scraped and cleaned the contacts, then coated the base and bottom end of the new Sylvania Long Life 1157 bulb with a film of No-Ox-Id compound (more on this stuff in a minute) and locked it into place. I had removed the entire housing from the vehicle by cutting the crusty old wires going to the socket, leaving a short bit to connect the new wires to (they were fine up near the socket, the factory rubber coating and boot up there kept the wires in decent shape for about the first two inches out of the socket, which was all I needed). Something I insist on, is that each component have a dedicated ground wire going to it. Sure, the housings, sockets, etc tend to bolt or screw to the chassis and, in theory, should be grounded through the chassis...but one extra wire to each component isn't a big deal, and the payoff is that you virtually eliminate lots of potential 'gemlins' due to a poor or inconsistent ground...especially on older, rusty cars! This ensures that your bulbs will all light, and shine as bright as they should, without dimming, flickering or just plain not lighting because of a poor ground. Any component relying on it's mounting to the metal chassis for it's ground will still be grounded that way, but the added ground wire just makes your job that much more reliable. Think of it as if you are wiring a car with a fiberglass body...in such cases, you NEED to run a dedicated ground wire to each component in order to make it work. I wire my metal cars the same way! In this first photo, you can see the passenger side tail light housing ready to install back in the body. Note the ground wire screwed to the metal base down near the bottom of the housing, in the unused backup light area. (This car did not come with the optional reverse lights, and I wasn't adding them. You can see the factory plug over the light socket hole where the reverse light socket would go.) Also note how the harness has enough slack in it to allow the housing to come out this far. This only makes things easier for you in the future, should you need to do any service or trouble-shooting. (The bulb can be replaced by removing the lens only, the housing does not need to come out for bulb replacement in this particular case). (Don't ask about the driver's side housing...the socket was so rotted that it snapped and I had to modify a universal store-bought replacement to fit...like I said...FUN!!!!) Before the tail light housing was installed, though... I first tested it using the convenient battery under the hood of the car. Uising the existing couple inches of the original socket wires and a new length of ground wire screwed to the housing, I tried each of the two socket wires one at a time to determine which one was the bright (stoplight) wire and which was the dimmer (tail light) wire. This also showed me that the ground wire was good and that the bulb worked. I connected about a three foot length of orange 14ga wire to the stoplight wire, and the same length of pink wire to the tail light wire (long enough to go into the trunk area and route across to the driver's side where the wires would join the wires for the driver's side housing and splice into the 'rear light harness' which would run inside the car and up into the dash area). That done, I 'banded' the pink, orange and black wires together every few inches using small strips of electrical tape, then wrapped them completely in electrical tape for about two feet...to insure that I'd have a wrapped length long enough to feed from the housing, through the factory grommet inside the quarter panel and into the trunk area. The rest gets wrapped later, after it's routed and trimmed to length, leaving a couple inces of exposed wires to connect to the other side and the rear light harness before the junction area gets wrapped and tucked into place for good. Looking into the trunk area, you can see where my wrapped segment ended, showing loose colored wires. I see SO many cars 'wired' with loose wires like this strewn about that it boggles the mind...neatly wrapping your harnesses in tape (like the factories do it) makes your work a whole lot nicer, protects your wires better and keeps everything neat and out of the way. Plus, it really isn't difficult at ALL! No excuse not to do it, people! This photo shows you the rear light harness prior to installation. You can see the 'banding' every couple inches or so which holds the wires together prior to wrapping them neatly with the tape. When wrapping a harness, guesstimate the lenth you'll need, then stop short, leaving the last few inches loose to trim, fit, and wrap in the final installation (always guess to the LONG side when possible!). To wrap a banded harness, start at one end (usually the component end), and attatch the end of your tape to the harness at a slight angle, then...keeping it tight to the harness, work the roll of tape around the harness, overlapping each turn as you go until you reach the other end, or CLOSE to the other end. Once all connections are made, back up a few inches and start the wrapping process again to enclose the spliced area(s). A word here about wire gage, connectors and protectant. First up, I use at least 14 ga wire for everything, with larger wires used where a bigger load (more amperage) is expected. 16ga or even 18ga might be adequate for the lights and stuff...the factory wires sure were puny...but it doesn't hurt to go a wee bit bigger...as I like to employ a dose of 'overkill' when I wire a car! As far as crimp connectors go, I love 'em. If you use them correctly, and crimp them well with a decent crimping tool, you shouldn't have any worries. To insure it, though...I apply a dab of No-Ox-Id protectant to every connection, socket, and bulb in the vehicle. It's incredible stuff! It has the look and feel of ear wax, but just a light coat will prevent corrosion and keep those electrons flowing freely for years! As my dad taught me decades ago when he first introduced me to this stuff, "You don't have to use it on every connection...just the ones you want to work!" In many cases, there will be 'tabs' that held the stock wiring in place, such as was the case with my car. You can see how the completed rear light harness is tucked tightly into these existing tabs (minus one that I broke!), allowing my new harness to follow the original path into the interior where it was run along the door sill area and secured with nylon cable straps and small sheetmetal screws (the channel in this area was rotted, so I chose not to stick my new wires through it!). At this point, the rear light harness was tucked under the dash with enough extra wire on the ends to hook up to the required locations when I get to that point...and it ran from there back into the trunk and over to the passenger side light in a simple, easy and sanitary manner. Just about the way that GM did it, only with bigger wires, a ground wire and a fully wrapped harness. It's neat, clean and should provide years of trouble-free service! More to come as this project moves along...stay tuned!